The season is only two weeks old, and the White Sox have already lost their entire starting outfield to routine plays involving running to first.
Two games in, AJ Pollock pulled up lame while rounding first base with a modicum of aggression. He strained a hamstring and had to go on the injured list. He’s since returned, although not to the level where he’s playing every day at the height of his capabilities.
On Thursday, Luis Robert tweaked his groin as he approached the bag while running out a grounder to the left side, on a similar play that caused his hip to explode last year. The White Sox are waiting to see if they can avoid the injured list, with a firmer update coming after Monday’s off day.
It sounds like Eloy Jiménez won’t be able to avoid the IL after his latest episode, as he suffered a hamstring injury on his final step on his own grounder to the left side early in Saturday’s game against the Twins.
He required a cart to exit the field, and unlike Andrew Vaughn’s spring training hip scare, this one doesn’t appear to be precautionary. Tony La Russa made it sound like the injury won’t cost him the season …
“We have to wait for the MRI to get the final diagnosis, but it makes everybody want to break up,” said a somber La Russa, while acknowledging more tests needed to be run on Jiménez. “The injury to Eloy is more important than losing the game. … I feel sorry for him.
“You walk in the training room and you see him, and he’s crying his eyes out. You walk in and everybody cries. He loves what he does. I told him there will be a lot of season left when he gets back.”
… but if he’s out for months instead of weeks, it continues a few troubling trends regardless. The Sox lost Robert and Nick Madrigal to similar injuries last season, and as long as the offense keeps scuffling, the more reliant they’re going to be on these above-average efforts that keep getting them hurt.
(UPDATE: The White Sox said he’s out for six to eight weeks.)
As for Jiménez, his lack of body control makes any ballpark he plays in rife with proximity mines. A lot of our discussion of last year’s ruptured pectoral tendon can be applied to this round:
Jiménez wasn’t always this rough. His frame filled out over the course of his minor league ascension, and maybe the added bulk exacerbated the natural inefficiencies in his movements. Once it became abundantly clear that reps alone weren’t closing the gap, the Sox shifted to a more hands-on approach.
But phrases like “finer movements that elude him” and “natural inefficiencies” are a gentler way of saying “clumsy,” and that’s a lot harder to solve. Maybe the Sox can reshape his body into something that accelerates and handles corners better. Maybe they’d have better luck asking him to land a triple lutz.
When you see him lunge with his final step toward first base and land on the back of the bag, he looks nowhere closer to passing his CDL test during a time where this particular truck company will gladly employ and deploy anybody with a pulse.
The White Sox have experience when it comes to life without Jiménez, but that offers limited solace. This will be his third consecutive compromised season, and next year is when he starts making the money that requires the Sox to bank on him ($22.5 million over the next two years). This looming clock is why I kept floating idea of the White Sox trading Jiménez over various episodes of the Sox Machine Podcast.
The Sox also benefited from phenomenal fortune in the wake of Jiménez’s injury. The best five weeks of Yermín Mercedes’ life bought the White Sox time to get other options in order, after which Jake Lamb, Brian Goodwin, Gavin Sheets, Jake Burger and others helped fill in the DH/corner outfield spot two decent weeks at a time.
This time around, Sheets entered the game in right field, and Byron Buxton immediately took advantage of his inexperience by taking another 90 feet when Sheets threw to the wrong base.
Besides testing my ability to soft-speak a Jiménez trade into existence, I’ve often wondered aloud what the 2021 White Sox season would’ve looked like had Mercedes never had his month in the sun. We might be seeing that simulation now. It doesn’t seem like baseball is forgiving enough for the White Sox to cruise around so much misfortune two years in a row.
The Sox are fortunate that there’s quite a bit of cushion between how they won the AL Central last year and how they can still win it this year. We just don’t know whether they can win a rock fight because true mettle-testing has been few and far between, and right now they can’t even run 90 feet without the risk of a major loss. When something so simple is that dangerous an obstacle, it’s no surprise that actual opponents have sent them spinning into a six-game skid.
Maybe the Sox aren’t hitting because they are afraid to run to first base.
Eloy for Montas + Ramon Laureano. Who says no?
Eloy appears to be in a perpetual “coming back from injury” and “take it easy” phase. So he does not grow as a player. He has barely over 1000 (2 seasons worth) of PAs in his developmental to peak years. That’s terrible. How can he become a masher if he barely faces MLB pitchers? Eloy’s high groundout rate this year might be just finding a rhythm that eludes him in between trips to the IL.
I am not opposed to trading Eloy in order to gain athleticism (and reliability)
I know, I keep waiting for this untapped potential. A rookie year is a rookie year, then he had a good year in 2020, shortened through no fault of his own due to the pandemic, but then he’s limited to 1 game in the postseason due to getting hurt while celebrating clinching. I think, finally, a full non-rookie year to see what he can really do in 2021. He tears his pec, is limited to 55 games, looks ok to start, but isn’t great after that, but hey, 2/3 of his season was lost, so throw that out too. So, finally in 2022, we can see what he can really do. He’s started out inconsistent (not enough time to judge yet), but now he’s out at least 6-8 weeks. It’s frustrating. He’s had some success already, and the potential is there for so much more if he can get the ball off the ground, but assessments keep coming up “incomplete.”
Well, I was kind of preparing for 2-3 months in my head, so I guess 6-8 weeks is not as bad as it could have been. They can actually survive this just fine (oh, if you ignore the fact that the other two starting outfielders are injury prone and have already been hurt): Vaughn in LF, Robert in CF, Pollock in RF, Engel as 4th OF. Sheets and Leury can also play OF. This leads to more everyday play for Vaughn and Sheets and maybe more time for Burger (at DH, at least against LHP) if Moncada ever returns.
I hope 6-8 weeks is accurate and not just a wishful estimate. As bad as it looked I figured he was done for the year.
At the same time, the guy is as injury prone as Pollock or Eaton. It seems unlikely he will ever have anywhere near the impact that we hoped. Obviously in 2021/22 he will wind up missing so much time that his value nearly cut in half, if not more because he hasn’t exactly been great when he plays.
Hope the dude gets better, heart breaking for him undoubtedly for something like this to happen to him a 2nd straight year. And the team.
Madrigal had the same injury and the original estimate was 6-8 weeks, which quickly turned into surgery and out for the season on further evaluation. Doesn’t sound like Eloy has had that evaluation yet.
Well, thanks, that’s certainly an important point that I missed. It does not seem wise to throw out specific numbers early if they just went through the same thing last year.
Not too much of a positive spin you can put on all the injuries, but undoubtedly Sheets, Vaughn, and Burger are all going to get a ton more playing time than otherwise. Many were concerned about Vaughn platooning… he will surely play every day now.
Unless he gets benched for Haseley, that is. Forgot, you can’t trust any logic with the manager we have.
Yeah, good point, the impact is only minimized if Tony stops punting on the bottom third of the order every day. If Robert is back Tuesday, play the regular starters, and put whoever plays 2B at 9th in the order.
I think it’s also interesting to note that in the game before this on Friday night, in the first inning with two outs and Leury on first, Eloy hit a ground ball. The Twins tried going to second, but Leury beat it, and then they threw to first and got the third out. Eloy wasn’t running hard out of the box and would have beaten the play to keep the inning going if he were. He was talked to about that on the bench. The next game (his next ground ball, as he only struck out and doubled after that in Friday’s game), he sprints hard to try to beat out a routine grounder, contributing to the injury. I’m not blaming anybody, because it’s a tricky balance (see also: Renteria benching players for not running hard to first), but it’s interesting in the cause and effect of that play Friday night probably contributing to the injury occurring.
This is interesting. I’ve never been a fane of the “run hard to first base on routine grounders because hustle looks good” especially with non-fast star players.
But not hustling when there’s a chance to actually get on base complicates matters.
But still, if you are down 10-0 in the 9th inning I really don’t care if you walk to first base on a ground ball.
As I recall, sometime over the past week Eloy got an RBI by hustling to first base and avoiding a GIDP with 1 out and a runner on 3rd.
But my goodness, these professional athletes are missing sooo many games with muscle/tendon pulls these days. It HAS to be a priority to keep them flexible/healthy. Look at the lineup the Sox are trotting out there today: Pollock, Leury, Hasely, Mendick.
Any word on who is replacing Eloy? I assume they are calling someone up.
Probably Haseley stays up. Roster is full right now.
Ah, right, Giolito.
Never in all my years have I seen a player hit first base like that…..it’s just, I don’t have words for it.
One question I have asked myself is whether 3 guys getting hurt running to first base could be – much like really crappy play in the field – a product of not having a full spring. The owners got what they wanted -162 games, don’t lose any TV money, who cares if the stands are mostly empty or if the on-field product isn’t very good, etc. But their assets are getting needlessly hurt. Might have been better to have a full spring and play 144 games or something like that.